Sunday, 13 January 2013

Macadamia Raider

Harvest awaiting drying and shelling
I hear the raucous call and jump to my feet. A sulphur crested cockatoo is an unusual visitor to my backyard. He sounds like a young version of my grandfather who spent his last years in the front room of my parents' house smoking his rollies and coughing himself to his grave. This pure white raider, still in his adolescence, doesn't have the chest rumble and the deep voice of Larry. He's still proud and potent and announces his presence without hesitation.

 In reply the pathetic Noisy Minors make their challenge. yeeep yeeep yeeep. The sulphur crested one cockily ignores them and they give up, acknowledging the futility of mounting this campaign.

He's up there high in the macadamia nut tree clumsily clawing his way along each thin branch to reach the nuts at the extremes. He looks like he's a dapper pirate walking the plank. It's a large tree. It was mature when I arrived here almost twenty years ago so it's a survivor. I've just finished harvesting a good crop but there are plenty remaining for those prepared to fly or risk their lives.

The past two years have provided very generous harvests - one an extraordinarily wet year and this, a very dry and hot year. One a pest free crop and this year compromised. The wasps have deposited their larvae in the shells and their pupae have bored into the core and spoilt every second nut.

'Sulphur crest' cocks his head to take me in as I wander around the base of the tree but he soon returns to his task which appears to be the snapping off as many branches as possible. His strong beak simply bites through the branches as he goes. He's giving the tree a good summer pruning. He's behaving like I do when I get a pair of gardening shears in my hands - cut and cut until the urge departs - which is why I think of him as male.

He's not particularly interested in the fruit, or at least he is happy to be wasteful. Nuts fall to the ground around the base of the tree as he crawls from one bunch to the next. I don't see him crack or eat any of them. He just shows off by throwing them out of the tree like discarded babies.

Maybe he and I should strike a bargain. He can throw the high ones out of the tree, I'll gather them, then I'll crack a few and leave them out for him. And then we can both let our hair down and go on a rampage of pruning together.

CAAAARK CAAAAARK. We speak the same language.

Saturday, 12 January 2013

Cousin country - New Italy

Pretty much the only evidence remaining
New Italy (mud brick) Museum and cafe
 My family history project continues. This last week took me to Evans Head and the nearby New Italy Museum where I met my namesake and second cousin once removed, Stephen John Capelin. For the first time I understood the "once removed" concept.

We are second cousins but I am a generation ahead of him even though he is almost the same age. We are among a line of Stephens. Stephen John's father was John Stephen, his father a Stephen John and his father a Stephen Antonio. I have a first cousin Stephen Anthony (from the same ancestry though different surname - his mother was a Capelin) and I have a brother Michael Anthony.

With a couple of hundred relatives on my father's Italian side there are also a string of Lawrences and Larrys (one in every generation of my direct line) and the original Lorenzo from whom we are all descended and whom is the subject of my historical fiction - a work in progress.

Free admission - a display of family stories and heirlooms
Stephen was in possession of a wonderful document which fills in a few gaps in our story. You may have read previously that we are Capelin by nickname only, but an enduring nickname which goes back at least two hundred years (correctly spelt Cappellin and meaning 'Little Hat' - my blog name). We are of the Perin family. One, Antonio Perin of Veneto, has undertaken an international search for the world family of Perins. This has taken him to Australia, France, Belgium, North America and Brazil. We are all related and all come from an area in Northern Italy over which you could throw a table cloth. He has published this as "Familie Perin Nel Mondo'. It all looks authentic.

Marginal country on which the Italians eked out an existence
We Capelins (also a John along with my son Nicholas, not a repeated Italian name, and their wives Ellen and Elizabeth) met at the New Italy Museum, a roadside stop on the Pacific Highway and home to the story of the fifty families who travelled to Australia in 1881 on a disastrous voyage to a phantom paradise.

I thought I had almost all the facts in place but, and this is the fascinating thing about history and family history, it is never quite finalised; there is always more.

The land has largely reverted to bushland
In this case we spent three hours (we had met only once before in 2005) on a rollicking ride through family stories and documents and, in a spirit of discovery, unearthed a few new elements for each of us. For my part, I have been writing an historical/fictional account of Lorenzo and his family exploring life in Veneto and the conversations and events which might have lead to the decision to up stumps and choose the unknown rather than struggle to survive in peasant Italy of the times. At this point I have Lorenzo as the dreamer, his wife Catterina as the pragmatist and bitter about her lost childbearing years and eight year old Dominic as the narrator.

A local recipe for (a lot of) salami
I had presumed that, given Catterina had a thirteen year old and an eight year old, there would probably have been other children born in intervening years whom she may have lost. Stephen's document proves this to be true. She is listed as having given birth to three other children in Italy who are not mentioned elsewhere and did not accompany them on the voyage. Is it possible that Lorenzo and Catterina left some behind with relatives to make the voyage less arduous? Unlikely. I can't imagine any parent making that choice. And thus my confidence in my narrative has been reinforced by a day at Evans Head Beach. The surf on the last day of my camping trip was great by the way - big rolling foamers cresting and crashing into deep clear water.

Sadly Catterina did not survive the voyage and lies in an unmarked grave in Noumea. This death (in childbirth) will be the climactic moment in the story.

For Stephen John (second cousin once removed) it raised the possibility that his great-great grandfather Dominic (Lorenzo's son) may have been a twin as there are two births recorded in 1872.  And still no documentary evidence (birth/baptism) of our existence in Italy as Perin or Capelin or Cappellin. I plan a visit in June to do some further digging.

These are the snippets of information and hoped for documents which keep us family historians questing for answers to sometimes unknown questions.

For those who have come this far, well done. For those who find family history a tad tiresome I could swerve towards something racier on my grandmother's Irish side. A potential potboiler featuring a divorce involving two generations of aspirational Italian and Irish peasants and the progeny of one of Australia's high profile industrialists. Another time maybe.

Sunday, 6 January 2013

Mrs Pinkle

Mrs Pinkle's entrance
Sixty people had sat down to dinner to celebrate the 50th birthday of our great, and until this week young, friend Mary. The food had been prepared by her son Jack, recently returned from a trip to Europe seeking out restaurant experiences to further hone his cheffing skills.

As guests arrived at Mary's sister's home (a converted church hall with original 50s kitchen, a stage masquerading as a lounging area and an open timber dance floor) we were offered fried polenta and home made tomato dipping sauce, aranchini balls with fresh mayonnaise and mediterranean eggplant and capsicum served warm, tapas style, on toasted sourdough. Then followed a smorgasbord of marinated swordfish, slow roasted leg of Tasmanian lamb, rocket and shaved pameson salad, a tri-coloured cherry tomato salad and side dishes - hand made pesto and salsa verde.

We were in for a night of gastronomy, stories and songs.

We ate and were just beginning to get post meal proceedings under way when we were interrupted by a knock at the side door. We all paused and an old woman dressed immaculately in a smoky green chiffon frock poked her head into the room and asked if this was the party for Mary. The MC , a little taken aback, informed her that this was a private function and that we'd just finished eating and were about to begin the entertainment. She replied that she didn't mind, though she said she hadn't eaten and proffered her invitation which she read to us  -only then realising that she had misread the start time.  She had indeed followed the invitation  to a "T" (apart from missing the meal and pre-dinner drinks and nibbles and games of boule on the former tennis court) choosing to dress herself in reds and greens as requested.

The MC, being a warm and inclusive gent, engaged her in gentle banter while looking to Mary for guidance. Was this person in fact invited? Should we invite her to sit down?

At that point she introduced herself as Mrs Pinkle and Mary's response was immediate.

'Mrs Pinkle. Oh my God. I haven't seen Mrs Pinkle for forty years'

Ruth, Mary's older sister by two years, who she had stabbed with a 2B pencil in their Toowoomba garage as an act of revenge for her teasing that same many years ago, also jumped to her feet. Older sister Jenny sadly missed the reunion having left to pick up a friend from the airport fifteen minutes earlier. What unfortunate timing! Particularly so, since it turns out Jenny had never met Mrs Pinkle, only hearing of her from her sisters. Jenny always seemed to develop one of her migraines on Mrs Pinkle's rare visits.

Let me describe Mrs Pinkle in a little more detail if I may. She was clearly a woman with a great sense of self pride and style  - in the nicest sense. Her dress was, as previously described, a demure green chiffon. She wore red globe earings to match her hat which sported an off centre floral motif and she sported a pair of crimson gloves (for which she apologised explaining how difficult it is these days to secure a pair of ladies gloves of the shade one prefers, even on eBay). This was set off with contrasting charcoal handbag and patent red (sensible) lace up shoes. A pair of pince nez glasses poised on her nose and pink  lipstick applied rather hurriedly completed her outfit.

Mrs Pinkle was rather shy amongst the large gathering but when invited, did not hesitate to choose a chair in the very centre of the gathering.

As the evening proceeded Mary's 88 year old father brought us to tears with his unaccompanied version of her childhood favourite  "My Bonnie lies over the Ocean". There was a blues version of "Wild Thing" performed by a round bodied male friend of the family with the backing of a six piece group of classical choristers, none of whom knew the words - ' Just sing what ever you like, whenever' were Dave's detailed instructions. Two nephews sang a beautiful song titled "Mary" they'd sourced from their contemporary iTunes files. And there was a quiz.

Mrs Pinkle's hand shot up with every question. She was very well informed about the family and even knew that Mary's middle name was spelt Catherine and not Kathryn. She was less aware of Mary's ongoing compulsion to count up to her age before turning off the shower (which is having quite a significant effect on Mary's water bills now that she must count to fifty - luckily the need to shower numerous times each day is not, as yet, among her compulsions). Since this shower routine begun at the age of nine on a beach holiday at Caloundra it's understandable that Mrs Pinkle was unaware of this debilitating aspect of Mary's personality, especially given that she doesn't drive. She was, however, strangely alert to the pencil incident. All that aside, she was having a rollicking time, clapping and muttering excitedly at each thing which took her fancy.

Now came the time to sing Happy Birthday and move on to the mountains of home made cakes which a range of cooks (all women) had provided. The MC invited some of the choristers to lead us in singing the song but this idea was interrupted when Mrs Pinkle's pinkies fluttered above the heads of the assembled and quietly, almost inaudibly, mentioned that she too was musical and that she played the organ. Well, that's very interesting joked the MC but unfortunately not every birthday party is supplied with such an instrument so... ......In a twinkle Mrs Pinkle was up on her feet and headed to the western side of the room and there, to our amazement, she stood beside a grand piece of antique furniture masquerading as an organ.

Again it was Mary's birthday and Mary seemed quite keen on this turn of events. The crowd settled. There was a long moment of held breath - both Mrs Pinkle and the birthday goers - as she adjusted the chair, poked at the keys and looked dismayed when there was no sound.

'You've got to pump the pedals Mrs Pinkle' Mary reminded her.
'Oh yes. I'd forgotten.' came the muffled reply.

With a further settling, a straight back and a final adjustment of her hat, Mrs Pinkle approached the key board. The multitude again held their breath, and then, moments before we collectively burst our lungs, small pumping legs and gentle fingers coaxed sound from the instrument. The notes came. The tempo was slow. The room joined in. I tell you it was magnificent. The singing hung sweetly in the air and Mrs Pinkle led us all in the most moving rendition of that hackneyed old birthday song.

'H A P P Y  B I R T H D A Y  D E A R  M A A R Y.      H A P P Y  B I R T H D A Y  T O  Y O U.'

And then Mrs Pinkle was gone.
'Ooh, is it that late? It's well beyond my bedtime.'

Poor Jenny. After forty years Mrs Pinkle had returned to knock on the door and join the family as she had many times in those long ago years. And again Jenny missed meeting her.

Bloody airport scheduling. Unbelievable.

Friday, 4 January 2013

New Years resolution

Lake Catharabah New Years Eve
Stay calm. Let go lightly. Try not to become too attached to things.

I don't do New Year's resolutions. This one is a late entry (4 January) and follows my accidentally deleting all the photos I took over the last week except this sole survivor.

I could wax lyrical about their beauty and the way they captured the spirit of fresh beginnings. There were photos of one year old Riley who captured our hearts as she took her first steps and gazed into our eyes unblinking -  innocence personified.

There were some accidental masterpieces which were simply studies in slow shutter speed of wild fluorescent colours - the wrist and head bands everyone was wearing down by the lake where the local band was playing. You get the picture.

As I embrace my seventh decade perhaps this experience has something to teach me. One is never to old. For almost anything.

So as I take a deep breath and exhale slowly while meditating on the life I am meant to lead I wish you, the world, a fulfilling and positive 2013.